Slack Action / Flickr

Sound Transit has released their Q2 Ridership Report.  Another quarter, another ST ridership record set.  This quarter it is the first time weekday boardings have exceeded 100,000 for a full quarter.  Ridership was stable or showed growth on all modes except for Tacoma Link.  The system as whole was up 8%, 7% on weekdays.  ST Express boardings rose 7%, Sounder 6% (increases in Sounder South overcoming decreases on the North Line), and Central Link 10%, 9% on weekdays.  For a more indepth look at the ridership numbers, see the monthly ridership posts.  May and June and July.

Link’s cost per boarding continued pulling away from ST Express as we moved into summer at $5.83 for Central Link compared to $6.50 for ST Express.  $5.83 is a dollar lower than Link’s Q2 2011 cost and a 25 cents lower than the 2013 budget estimate.  This will likely be the low point (or high depending on how you look it) for cost per boarding on Central Link this year as seasonal variation lowers ridership moving forward. There are other metrics not covered in the regular monthly report so the full quarterly report is worth checking out.

Below are some charts I created focusing on Cost per Boarding.

2013Q2-CPB-ALL 2013Q2-CPB-4qrMA-ALL 2013Q2-CPB-LinkvSTE 2013Q2-CPB-Link

IF Central Link can maintain its spectacular growth for the next few years it is possible that even before U-Link opens Link’s cost per boarding could be close to or lower than Metro’s (in 2011 Metro’s was $4.05, up from $3.04 in 2001).  Of course, comparing cost per boarding over different modes and systems is problematic, as they cover different distances, charge different fares, serve transit markets of varying quality, and have different spans of service.  Projecting it into the future is even more unweildly.  However it will be an important milestone/trend going into a possible 2016 ST3 vote.

20 Replies to “Sound Transit 2Q 2013 Ridership Report”

  1. The angle of that very beautiful picture makes the 150 look electrified! (both the pantograph appears to be attached to it, and the jet stream in the background looks a bit like a lightning bolt!

  2. That drop in Snohomish County commuter ridership is rather spectacular. CT added a bunch of additional runs, some paid for by grants, which could explain what happened to the 511. But can anyone explain what happened to the 510?

    1. They all jumped over to Sounder North.
      Wait, it fell 7% too. Maybe they all moved into apodments in Seattle?
      I think Sounder North needs some more free (cough, cough) parking to turn the corner. That last lot in Edmonds has really helped.

      1. Parking at Edmonds helps Sounder North! ROFL! Ridership down 7%, quarter to quarter.

        And maybe the $16 million in HSR funds spent in two spots will eliminate enough landslides on the Sounder North tracks this winter, that folks won’t be so scared to ride it in the rain, like I would be, since that time last April when a passenger train actually de-railed in the rain.

        By the way, what do you think of this idea to boost light rail ridership by tourists at the airport: ST posts a sign near where the REx 560 bus loads indicating that it will provide a free ride to the light rail stop (the first stop for 560 in either direction, the kiss and ride on International Blvd below the Link station). For a tourist arriving with luggage who ends up at the Sound Transit bus stop on the opposite side of the parking garage from Sound Transit light rail, this could be a godsend. It happens.

      2. “And maybe the $16 million in HSR funds spent in two spots will eliminate enough landslides on the Sounder North tracks this winter, that folks won’t be so scared to ride it in the rain, like I would be, since that time last April when a passenger train actually de-railed in the rain.”

        This sort of stuff actually matters a lot. On Amtrak, some studies have shown that ridership can drop by over 50% after periods of extreme unreliability, and take over 2 years to bounce back after the reliability returns. Similar results have been found at various commuter rail and urban rail systems.

    2. From the report: “Some routes operated by Community Transit (CT) continued to show a downward trend, and staff believes this is related to a change in the way CT began counting boardings in January 2013.”

      1. Thanks. I can’t fathom, though, that a change in counting technology or methodology could account for a 15% drop.

  3. Getting back to complaints of “passed-up” riders on the 545 headed eastbound during AM peak, which lasts all the way to 10 a.m. for that route. (I use this term lightly, as some seem to count riders’ decisions to wait for a more comfortable ride as a “pass-up”.)

    Are riders being passed up downtown, or is it happening at Montlake? Are more riders getting on than off at Montlake? Would adding better frequency to the 540 (which, in contrast to the 542, is still gaining ridership) be a cheaper and better way to handle this group of riders?

    Either way, given the continuing explosion of riderhip on both the 545 and 550, ST is going to need to keep adding trips, even if it means abandoning some of the lowest-performing, high-cost routes. Investing in these three routes has obvious benefits for the future of East Link ridership.

    1. Would adding better frequency to the 540 (which, in contrast to the 542, is still gaining ridership) be a cheaper and better way to handle this group of riders?

      If they’re trying to get on the 545, I’m assuming they’re headed to Microsoft. So, unless they bring bikes with them and are willing to bike from the South Kirkland P&R, I don’t think the 540 to Kirkland will help them.

    2. Good point — I do decide to “just take the next one” all the time. The 545, by the time it gets to the Capitol Hill stop, has a pattern of having one bus quite late and crowded, then having the next one on time and fairly empty.

      I don’t know if “pass-ups” happen downtown, but certainly more people get on at Montlake than off, and not all that many. There must be some people for whom it’s more advantageous to take a 545 than a 542 or 242.

      The 540 wouldn’t help unless it went through downtown or Capitol Hill, and downtowners already have the 255. If the 255 / 545 could share an Olive Way freeway station, then the handful of people who just need to get from southwest Capitol Hill to Montlake or Evergreen Point could load balance there (among other benefits).

      1. The 242 picks up at the Montlake Flyer Stop (not U District surface streets) on the way to Redmond in the morning, so the flyer stop lets you take the 242 or 545, which is a big frequency advantage over just the 542 on the surface. I’ve seen some people standing on the 520 overpass looking for buses in the distance to decide whether to go down the stairs or stay up top…

        I agree that an Olive Way freeway stop would help.

      2. I remember reading somewhere that the Montlake flyer stop is going away with the construction of University Link. If that’s (still?) true, I would guess that an Olive Way freeway stop becomes even more important (and also sucks for going westbound on 545/255 and 542 since it now has to follow the other two up the exit ramp).

    3. I assume Brent got the 540 and 542 mixed up – the 542 is slowly gaining ridership, while the 540 has been losing ridership.

      At Montlake, there are a few on’s (although not as many as there were before the 542), and almost no off’s. It is for people getting on at Montlake, and sometimes, Capitol Hill, where overcrowding is an issue.

      While less common, I have also occasionally seen even some 542 trips with people standing, particularly during the summer, due to the large number of Microsoft interns being housed at the UW.

      If we’re looking for a cheap way to increase capacity without spending any more money, perhaps a vehicle swap might be an order so that a few 542 trips (during the highest-demand times) get an articulated bus, while the lower-ridership 540 gets downgraded to a 40-footer.

  4. Two things jump out at me.
    – Central Link crossing 100 boardings/trip for YTD 2013.
    – For (I believe) the first time, the 550 had more quarterly boardings (677,000) than South Sounder (676,000).

    1. I believe the answer is NONE. Those were sunk costs, just like capital costs, debt and depreciation don’t make their way to the bottom line. If you divide 30 years worth of Sounder North costs not counted towards operations, using today’s ridership, you get about $40 bucks a ride more.
      Point is: That would have bought a lot of bus service, taking SOV’s off the road.

  5. It’ll be interesting to see the upcoming improvements for the North line. 3 new crossovers, full double track (finally)

    In the terms of Sounder North though, the extra parking did help. When Mukilteo gets built out in the near future, that’ll be something else to see how it’ll ultimate effect the ridership, if at all.

    1. Ya. Lots of big improvements. And the slide prevention work will surely help too. All for the better, but it sure is taking awhile.

    2. Not that I’m doubting you Brian, but is there really a date for this second track up north?

      My attempt to pin someone down was met with … evasiveness, but some interesting questions.

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